How to build a thriving studio

Illustration of a T

Keep your business afloat by constantly winning new work

01. Specialise

If you're a large agency, clients expect you to do everything, from marketing to branding through to web design and app development. Small agencies can't compete with that – and nor should they, says East. 

"When we first started, we'd take almost any job that came our way. But once we recognised what we did best and what we enjoyed the most, it became easier to specialise. This, in turn, made it easier to identify new business opportunities and win them."

02. Be proactive

Small agencies often get work via word of mouth, but you can't rely on that, argues Utber. "You need to be proactive. Personally I always do one thing a day. Make a phone call or reconnect to someone." It's also about getting your name out there. "We believe that raising our profile is a great way to attract clients, so we're writing a lot more thought pieces, and doing a lot more talks and panels."

03. Choose your work 

For new Manchester agency BGN (opens in new tab), chasing new business is all about going after the right type of work, says founder Antonio Giansante. "We've got a clear vision of the type of client we want, so that's what we're chasing. We've been building up a campaign to target that sector including a mixture of stuff: sponsoring some awards and events, print advertising, digital advertising, some social stuff, attending events, and some old-school DM."

04. Avoid search firms

Traditional ad agencies often use a search or pitch firm to generate leads. But our panel generally sees that as an outdated model that's too expensive for a small agency. "We went through a phase of working with a lead generation agency, where people would cold call for us," recalls Wade. "But it cost quite a lot per month – pretty much one person's wage. And I wouldn't say the results were exactly amazing…"

05. Harness social media 

Social media can be a useful tool to find new clients, says Wade. "At SteadyGo, I used the Twitter app Tweetdeck to serve me up tweets containing words from a list of 20 that were relevant to our business. I found quite a lot of work that way, and it made it easier to pick the kind of clients we wanted." 

One of the biggest questions freelancers have is whether to trade as a company or as an individual. The main factor that persuaded Dan Hett (opens in new tab), a creative technologist and digital artist from Manchester, to register himself as a company was that it opened more doors. "I've got a couple of very large clients that I know won't deal with people who aren't set up as companies," he says. "So for me, it was important I be registered as a company."

Next page: How to keep hold of clients

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.